Home ‘Public health threat’: pediatrician encourages legislation against gun violence

‘Public health threat’: pediatrician encourages legislation against gun violence

Dr Kathryn Bass
Dr. Kathryn Bass is a pediatric surgeon at Carilion Clinic in Roanoke. Courtesy of Carilion Clinic.

Dr. Kathryn Bass grew up on the southside of Chicago where the 4th of July shooting happened in Highland Park one month ago.

“This is not one person’s problem. This is everyone’s problem,” Bass said of gun violence in the United States.

As a pediatric surgeon, she has seen an increase in gun violence affecting her patients.

“The first time in forever, gun violence injuries are the no. 1 injury that kills children,” Bass said of recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It was kind of an eye-opening experience,” she said of seeing the new data. Motor vehicles were the no. 1 injury to cause death in children, but now gun violence is no. 1. “It’s incredibly sad.”

Regulations and improved road safety enabled Americans to decrease the incident of death from motor vehicle crashes.

“Motor vehicle crashes are a huge success story for us as a nation,” Bass said. But guns are not. So far the U.S. has not been able to respond with effective legislation to decrease fatalities from gun violence, including mass shootings.

Bass serves with medical colleagues on an advocacy committee lobbying for state and federal regulations to do something about gun violence. She encourages others to demand regulations and legislation that regulate access and storage of guns, and that provide consequences for those who do not abide by the regulations.

“Be a concerned citizen,” Bass said. Just as the U.S. was able to decrease the number of fatalities in vehicle crashes, Americans can also do something about gun violence. She is optimistic the CDC’s new data for children can improve.

As a surgeon, Bass said she believes stopping gun violence can also be a success story when “we deal with this as a public health threat.”

“Gun violence is like any other disease,” she said. “Trauma as a disease we know is preventable.”

Bass is currently a pediatric surgeon at Carilion Clinic in Roanoke. She moved to Virginia a year ago. Certified in both general and pediatric surgery by the American Board of Surgery, she grew up in Chicago, graduated medical school at Northwestern University in Chicago in 1989, did general surgery training and research in Boston at Tufts University from 1989 to 1996 then clinicals in pediatrics from 1996 to 1998. She said that pediatrics is considered a specialty, which requires additional research as a medical doctor. She holds an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and board certification in Wound Care Management.


After 10 years as a surgeon in Chicago, she lived in Texas briefly, then New York before coming to Roanoke. Her specialty in general surgery is soft tissues, the neck, thoracic and abdominal.

“Trauma is one of the disciplines that is led by the general surgeon,” Bass said. And she leads trauma surgery on children.

She has opened trauma centers around the country, including the first pediatric floating trauma center in Boston. In Roanoke, she performs trauma and other surgeries. Some days she has elective surgeries and some days emergency surgeries are added to her schedule.

“The majority of trauma in pediatrics is not related to gun violence,” Bass said. As individuals get older, the likelihood of gun violence increases. When toddlers are involved in gun violence, they are usually innocent bystanders in the situation.

She encourages families and parents to educate children to avoid guns. That if they visit a friend’s house and see a gun, to stay away from the gun. Children should be kept safe where they are by keeping guns out of their environment.

“The more guns we accumulate in our society,” Bass said, the more likely a child is to find a gun.

Some states are creating legislation to protect children against gun violence.

“Safe storage is a really important message for families,” Bass said.

Mass shootings do not happen unless a shooter has access to automatic weapons, and Bass said no reason exists for civilians to have automatic weapons which are intended as weaponry in war.

“They really have no place on the streets of our cities,” Bass said.

According to Bass, gun violence is not limited to specific areas of the country or only in rural or urban areas.

“That is the sad truth of what we see today,” she said.

She also finds more children’s deaths by suicides when guns are involved. Children are affected by access and mental health. If a child is mentally ill and has access to a gun, a suicide attempt will be fatal.

“That is a fatality,” she said.

Red flag laws for individuals with mental health illness are starting in some states, according to Bass, which will affect the state’s ability to remove guns in cases of mental health illness. This is important to avoid deaths by suicide and partner violent crimes.

“The more available they are, the more we are seeing these injuries,” Bass said.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.